Whispering Birds

Hamilton Gardens, Chinese Scholars Garden, Hamilton

18/02/2012 - 20/02/2012

Hamilton Gardens Arts Festival 2012

Production Details

Choreographer Dr Karen Barbour

Waikato Contemporary Dance Projects Trust

Whispering Birds is a season of five free public performances offered as part of the February 2012 Hamilton Gardens Arts Festival. As a site-specific dance season, Whispering Birds has been created for the Chinese Scholars Garden by local choreographer Dr Karen Barbour. Audience members of all ages will enjoy the performance as they move through the garden on a journey of discovery. Following the winding path, they will encounter surprising and luscious moments of dance that will spark their imaginations. Inspirations from Chinese garden design and elements of mystery and fantasy along with poetry and philosophy will inform the choreography.

Guest artist Chen Xiyao will perform contemporary music live on the Chinese gu-zheng instrument to compliment the dance and garden. (See the following webpage for further information about Chen Xiyao: http://www.newzealandpostgraduate.com/inspiration/stories/the-sound-of-history/).

Whispering Birds will be danced by experienced contemporary dancers used to the unique challenges for performing in unusual sites. The performers are Patti Mitchley, Marie Hermo Jensen, Alex Hitchmough, Claire Gray, Olivia Buchanan, Karen Barbour and Xiyao Chen. Whispering Birds is presented by Waikato Contemporary Dance Projects Trust and is the sixth site-specific contemporary dance work Karen Barbour has had programmed in this festival.

Dance costumes will be created by experienced local designer Kartika Leng, to compliment the elements of the garden and relevant themes. Props will be used to enhance the visual impact for viewers.

FREE admission and suitable for all ages. Please meet at the entrance to the Chinese Scholars Garden at least 5 minutes prior to the start time. Numbers are limited within the garden and access is limited.

With thanks to: Creative Hamilton, The Lion Foundation, Gallagher Academy of Performing Arts and Nimbus Multimedia.


Performers: Patti Mitchley, Marie Hermo Jensen, Alex Hitchmough, Claire Gray, Olivia Buchanan, Karen Barbour, Chen  Xiyao 

Dance , Site-specific/site-sympathetic ,

A moving hush

Review by Brenda Rae Kidd 23rd Feb 2012

This year’s venue for the Waikato Contemporary Dance Project Trust performance is the Chinese Scholars Garden as part of the annual Hamilton Gardens Arts Festival.

Traditional scholars gardens’ date back to the Tang Dynasty in 7th Century China and were havens for relaxation, meditation and cultivation of spirit. Whispering Birds, choreographed by Karen Barbour and featuring performances by Marie Hermo Jensen, Patti Mitchley, Claire Gray, Alex Hitchmough and Olivia Buchanan, transports us, the audience, back to the ancient art of serenity.

The performers wear sumptuous flowing white and red gowns created by Raglan costume designer Kartika Leng.  The silk fabric accentuate the dancers movements; combining Tai Chi, Yoga with other eastern elements which immediately create a meditative effect. We carry this with us as we follow the dancers through the gardens whilst listening to accomplished musician Xiao Chen playing the gu-zheng.

Whispering Birds is also the name of the island in the middle of the gardens, which is the focal point for duets and solo dances that are performed simultaneously. A white dove sits on the edge of the lake, appearing to watch as if this were an everyday occurrence.  Transfixed perhaps, as are the many children amongst us – barely a peep.  Lily aged six, turns to mum to whisper,”oooh they’re very graceful”

As we meander up the hill through the grotto of enlightenment, there silhouetted amongst the bamboo, are two lone dancers – the evening light renders them surreal.  I think of Patu-paiarehe weaving their magic in the forest – the chords masterfully played by XiYao heighten the enchantment, melding eastern culture with that we experience here in Aotearoa.

I am reminded of that exact moment when the breath slows; the mind melds with body as both surrender to sleep. Zen consciousness.

I am a white dove.


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